In hindsight, President Barack Obama made one major if understandable miscalculation in the 2011 budget-sequester process. Needing something that would force congressional Republicans to negotiate when the time came, he and his advisers crammed some $500 billion in defense-spending cuts into the bill, believing that congressional conservatives would compromise to avoid implementation of those cuts.
He was wrong. Some Republicans — led by John McCain in the Senate and by House Armed Services chair Buck McKeon, among others — have indeed tried to rally great outrage at the cuts. For example, according to a fact sheet put out by McKeon’s committee:
“In the midst of the most dynamic and complex security environment in recent memory, sequestration would severely diminish America’s global posture. An additional 100,000 soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen would be separated from service. Those reductions would lead to:
– The smallest ground force since 1940
– A fleet of fewer than 230 ships, the smallest level since 1915
– The smallest tactical fighter force in the history of the Air Force.
… Cuts to spending for the acquisition of military equipment alone would lead the loss of over 1,000,000 private sector jobs. These cuts could push unemployment back up to 9%. Cuts to active-duty and DOD civilian
personnel would amount to over 350,000 jobs lost.”
(According to data released by McKeon’s committee, Georgia alone has 37,000 civilian defense employees, and furloughs will cost the state some $203 million in payroll between now and October.)
However, despite such dire warnings and in a surprise to the Obama administration, congressional Republicans in general have found defense cutbacks far more acceptable than the revenue increases that would be needed to avoid them. And if even Republicans no longer see the Pentagon as invulnerable, that’s historic.
In fact, that change of attitude will have consequences far beyond the immediate short-term spending battle between Republican and Democrats. It represents a national turning point, with potentially major long-term implications not just for defense spending but for how the United States of America conducts itself overseas. It would seem that the American people are no longer content to spend more on defense than every other major country on the planet combined.
The politics behind the change are fairly conventional. In a recent poll by The Hill, 49 percent of likely voters said they would support cutting defense in order to reduce the deficit, while only 37 percent were opposed to the idea.
Contrast those numbers with a similar question asked about entitlements:
To be honest, I first saw inklings about that change in attitude regarding defense not in polls, but in comments on this blog over the past few years. When a number of conservative Georgians began to voice support for making cuts in the Pentagon budget, I realized that public opinion was changing quickly at the grassroots level, in ways that official Washington had not even begun to understand.
But that too is changing, as the sequester demonstrates.
– Jay Bookman